The morning sun is nowhere to be seen, instead covered by thick clouds and dense rain. The sky seemed to have descended upon the ports, bringing not only heavy downpours but a fog thick enough to slice with a knife. The result of the past few days, surely — after a long time with no showers, it’d rained yesterday, much to the grievance of merchants porting in town and the glee of the Disciples of Buhru. It had been nice for Twisted Fate to watch his fellow votaries sing and dance and laugh their merry to Nagakabouros. A common practice during rain, as The Bearded Lady was sending them power and strength in her rawest form when storms brewed above Bilgewater. Standing atop one of the temple’s many balconies, Fate had observes a new sort of game starting between some of the lower ranked acolytes. They would try to see who was closest to predicting a thunder clap after lightning struck. The closer you were, the more in tune with Mother Below you were said to be. They don’t seem to mind (or notice, even) that the heavy rain had soaked into their clothes and hair, darkening their green clothes and almost blending them into the mold-covered cobblestones beneath their feet. Fate watches them with a distant smile on his face, safely dry just under the slim balcony overcast. He was told to stay out of the water for a while, left the new tattoo etched into his skin be faded before its time. This one matched Illaoi’s; a green mark under his left eye and stopping at his ear, tallied twice in bold strokes. It was a mark of pride, tasteful but bright. It contrasted to the typical portraits of tentacles adorning his arms and back, being clean and angular rather than loose and curved. He would hate to have it ruined already.
But oh, how he loved the rain — a symbol of Her strength and presence in their lives, encouraging Her people to show strength and determination no matter a situation. But it was peaceful, too. It calmed him. In a world that ran on tension and aggression, Fate lived for moments where he could be soothed. He lets out a long sigh. Perfect.
There was a ship he did not recognize at the docks today — it had come in late last night. And while Fate was always happy to have new, naive, foolish, or plain drunk patrons to gamble and trick, this ship carried a vague feeling of apprehension. Its black sails flapped in the wind like any other, just as its boards creaked like any other. And, like any other, the Disciples claim that the crew has holed up in the local tavern and had taken residence at the Inn. Fate’s long fingers run idly over the cards in his pockets. His magic had changed as he’d accepted Nagakabouros into his life. Taken a different meaning and power.
He was not afraid to use this newfound strength against violent intruders, if that is what it came to.
Fate peels himself away from open air and back towards the shelf-lined interiors of his private quarters. A pretty and small room that he’d spent the last decade decorating to suit his comforts, and yet it still felt… odd. Something he couldn’t put his finger on. He’d lived with Illaoi and her people for almost fifteen years, and he felt out of place in his own room. Was it too green? As petty as it seemed, it was the closest thing to a reason Fate could find. He chews on his tongue in thought, but he is dragged away from the strange discomfort by the sound of the guffawing acolytes outside in the rain. He turns once back to look out the window, and spots the black flag fluttering gracefully in the distance. The cards hum against his palm.
He might have to investigate the newcomer sailors, in case his apprehension had a basis.
The rumors were true. The Pub & Inn bustles with activity, and Twisted Fate feels a nervous tug in his stomach as he stares at the thin wooden door. The pub’s warm light streams through the cracks between the door and its frame, and music punctuated by talking, shouting, and movement seems to emanate from the very foundation of the building. The rain continues to pound outside, making the hominess of the saloon only intensify. While this wasn’t uncommon, what was unfamiliar was the younger man sitting on the pub’s porch, sewing what seemed to be patches into several coats and shirts. Twisted Fate slowly approaches, his heavy jewelry and the beads in his braids clinking in his ears despite the sounds coming from the interior. His uneasiness over the new pirates tuned him into every small detail — he could count how many footsteps happened in a second, how many times the boy on the porch pulled the needle and thread through the thick fabric, how many times he had to brush his long, dark hair out of his face. Fate stops just before the door, watching the boy quietly.
He stops his delicate work and looks up, meeting Fate with a very warm, innocent pair of brown eyes. Fate’s almost surprised; was this kid really a pirate? He seemed so gentle, so serene. He seemed more like an artisan than a swashbuckler. Those soft eyes stare at him and then widen, the glint of recognition in their mocha reflection. He knew Fate, but did not say anything. They simply stood there and stared. Feeling slightly chagrined by his puppy dog eyes, Fate offers a slow and graceful nod before opening the pub doors.
Only to immediately be met with a blast of sound and light. If someone more sensitive were to walk in without warning, they would surely be overwhelmed. The raw blast to the senses only invigorated Fate, the violent noise and pure hedonism in the room seemed to fill him to the brim. This is what Nagakabouros preached; the following of one’s own desire with no fear or hesitation. These people were on a path to enlightenment. An easy grin spreads over Fate’s face as the chaos rolls over his body like the rain outside. He squeezes the water out of his vest briefly out of courtesy — not that anyone in here would care if he trailed the entire Guardian Sea in through the door — before stepping past the threshold.
A group of people sat near the back, surrounded by emptied glasses trailed with beer froth. They chant to the man sitting with his back to the wall who has tipped a large beer mug over his face and seemed to be consuming large amounts of alcohol at a rapid pace. Surrounding him closest are a man who seemed too big for his own chair — hell, too big for the bar. The man was so broad he looked like he belonged in the stables with the steer and draft horses. — and a girl who looked almost identical to the boy outside. They must be the new pirates in town, Fate concludes, as the man center finishes the fistfull of booze. He slams the mug down on the table, wipes his face and thick beard free of dribble, and raises a thick arm to the air to celebrate downing another beer.
The crowd cheers. Or, they look like they’re cheering.
To Fate, the group has gone quiet. The pub is silent. The world seems to have turned off its sound and everything began running in slow motion. Fate’s fingers have gone numb and his throat is dry. Compelled by an unseen force, he walks forward to the group. He feels like he’s wading through molasses, slow and sticky but blindingly sweet. The crowd takes no notice of him as he approaches.
It couldn’t be true, could it? This— it couldn’t be, Fate is mistaken. His eyes might have fooled him. The smog of smoke and the smell of strong liquor must have tricked him. There was no way this could be happening. Fate had said goodbye so long ago, and maybe he’s changed so much by now that even if it were possible, he wouldn’t recognize him. There’s no way, even as Fate is close enough to the group to smell the cigar hanging from his teeth, he isn’t allowed to believe it. Even as those sea green eyes meet his and every sense floods back to him in a wave so strong it nearly bowls him over. Even as the cigar hangs loose because the jaw clenching around it has slackened.
Even as Graves says his name, he can’t believe it.
Fate breathes in because somewhere along the way he had forgotten to do so.
“Malcolm,” he says, and the assuredness in his tone scares him. And that is all he says.
Graves stands, equally awed by their discovery. The group around them has gone deathly quiet, but the rest of the world around continues to move. Not to Fate’s notice. Every organ in his body has turned to feather down, his head feeling more like the back of a swan than an actual functioning piece of him.
Graves looked good. So good. He’d always been broad and strong, but now he was built like a industrial-grade canon. He was still short, that hadn’t changed, but the age and maturity that grew in the form of frown lines, crow’s feet, and a fuller beard filled out his once fairly blank face. His hands were worn and calloused, one could tell even from a distance, and he stood with a sturdy gate and a determined glower. But his thick eyebrows were pulled back in honest shock, cigar long forgotten. Fate wanted to look at his eyes, but they would not meet him. They were examining, taking in Fate as though starving. Graves was never good at hiding his thoughts and actions, and Fate can tell he is drinking in Fate’s appearance. It makes him feel almost squeamish, but it takes the form of butterflies and excitement, as though his featherdown organs had been kicked up in a flurry in his body.
“It’s you,” Graves says finally, and Gods, did Fate miss his voice. “Fuckin’ hell, it’s actually you.”
Fate grins, and he can feel the crookedness of it under his burning face.
“Did you expect Prince Lightshield?” he jibes. It comes out smoother than how he feels. “I thought y’all and th’rest of Gangplank’s crew couldn’t come back here.”
Graves chuckles lightly, still dazed, and the duo at his sides stands beside him suspiciously. He waves them back and they seem to relax, but their eyes on Fate make him feel defensive. He holds his tongue for now.
“‘M not in Gangplank’s crew,” Graves boasts rolling his shoulders back — don’t stare, Fate, Gods. — in pride. “Got my own group now.”
Graves’ near-childlike bragging amused Fate, told by the way his smile had begun to hurt his cheeks. He hadn’t changed that much, then. Not a bit more mature. Fate liked it that way. Even after so long, so little had changed.
“You look-... different too,” Graves says, interrupting Fate’s reverie. Fate’s smile turns a little as he continues. “More tattoos. Got your own little legion of kraken goons now?”
“Not quite,” Fate laughs. “Still holding my same rank, just… loosened up a little ‘bout a colored needle bein’ put in my skin.”
“You didn’t need to loosen up, you were already as slippery and smooth as a—”
Graves is abruptly cut off by the girl to his left clearing her throat. The big guy seemed unfazed by this, but both Fate and Graves looked to her in surprise. They’d forgotten the rest of Graves’ crew had been standing there. Fate’s smile falls as he realizes the two next to them were staring at him.
“Mother Below, Kolt. Relax. We’re just catchin’ up.” Graves rolls his eyes. He gestures to the girl, whose eyes were a lot less gentle and welcoming than the boy’s outside.
“This’s Kolt. She’s first mate aboard the Trifecta.” The way Graves described her sounded less like her position was awarded and was more like she griped and refused to let anyone else navigate because we were all ‘blind fools who couldn’t find their ways outta a one-way road. Fate grins easily at her, but it’s not reciprocated immediately.
“So you’re Tobias?” Kolt asks, raising on dark eyebrow at him. Fate grits his teeth at the use of his birth name — a right, he thought, had been reserved for Graves. “We’ve heard lots ‘bout you .”
Her tone makes Fate want to ask what ‘lots’ meant, but Graves hastily moved on. Curious.
“‘N this is The Brick,” he gestures to the large blonde man to his right. “He’s our navigator and tracker.”Fate pauses. The Brick looks more Demacian than Bilgewater, as he’s paler than anyone present and is more built like a soldier than a pirate. But Fate smiles at him, and The Brick seems to appreciate it and grins faintly back. At least Graves had collected a crew of mostly polite people.
Graves didn’t begin naming the rest of the crew surrounding him, as they seemed to have lost interest in their reunion fairly early on. But most notably there was a younger girl (possibly younger than Kolt) with an enormous bird perched on her chair. A chill runs through Fate — he makes a mental note to stay away from that thing. It looked hungry.
For a while, Graves returns to drinking, inviting Fate to sit by him and join in. While Graves chugs, Fate introduces himself around. This included scary bird lady, a corsair named Quinn. The bird is Valor and Valor already does not like him, which was fine with Fate. He learns the tailor outside is Wallach, Kolt’s brother. A diverse group of people, with different backgrounds and accents and attitudes. But all of them had a two things in common; they wanted money, freedom, or an adventure; and they knew Fate as ‘Tobias’. A squirming emotion grew in the base of Fate’s stomach. What had Graves said? Had he described him warmly? Or humorously? Aggressively? Or just in passing?
He’s jostled from his wonder as Graves elbows him roughly in the side (Gods, what did pirates eat? Raw eagle eggs and nails?) and laughs at Fate wheezes slightly.
“You alright?” Graves asks, the smell of beer on his breath making Fate almost woozy. Graves laughs. “Y’look lost. You’ve barely had anythin’ to drink. Never took you for a lightweight.”
“I’m not,” Fate hums. He turns to Graves, and something about his gaze triggers a small change in Graves. Barely noticeable. Another mental note is made and Fate feels a surge of desire to be alone with his thoughts.
“I’m goin’ out for a breath of fresh air,” Fate lies, standing from his seat. “Too many damn cigars and loud pirates. Surely you understand.”
Graves rolls his eyes at Fate’s mocking tone, but he stands as well. Fate’s feathery stomach is kicked again as he steps forward. Fate walks towards the door, and Graves follows.
“I’ll come with, just in case Your Royal Highness catches the vapors and faints.” Graves teases. Fate offers a sarcastic ‘hardy-har-har’ as they head towards the exit. In his periphery, he almost swears he sees Kolt lean towards Quinn and whispering something to her as they leave. He thinks nothing of it.
The fresh air sweeps in as Graves opens the door with a joking flourish, as Fate steps outside with a comedic regality of a prince stepping down off of a ship.
“After you, princess.” Graves says.
“Why thank you, squire. ” Fate answers.
Wallach looks up from his work, having moved on from one coat to another. He sits up straight when Graves exits, and his smile is shyer than one Fate has ever seen before.
“Captain,” he says, handing a bundle to Graves. “Fixed it up for you.”
“Wallach, why ain’t you inside enjoyin’ yourself?” Graves jibes, taking the finished coat from Wallach’s outstretched hand. “Tobias, this is Wallach.”
“So I’ve heard,” Tobias says. “Nice to meet you. Sorry I didn’t say much when I walked in.”
“Oh, that’s alright.” Wallach says, turning back to the fabric in his hands. “Sorry I stared.”
“‘M goin’ for a walk, Wallach. If the crew decides to leave, don’t wait up.” Graves’ tone has little authority to it with how it stumbles over booze, but Wallach nods and returns to his concentration. Graves begins down the steps of the pub with Fate in toe. The coat is slung over Graves’ shoulders as they walk around the side of the pub. An intimate space to hide from the rain. Fate’s body heats up at just the thought of that. To disperse his internal tension, he speaks.
“You’ve got quite a following in there.” he says.
“Yeah, they’re alright.” is Graves’ nonchalant answer. “Don’t ask for too much, easy to pay. Get my clothes fixed for free.”
“Almost makes me wish I’d come aboard all those years ago.”
Graves chuckles. “Yeah, ain’t quite what you’d like, princess.”
“Oh, no,” Fate sighs, putting a hand to his forehead. “I- think I’m comin’ down with something!”
He clutches at his chest with his free hand and leans against Graves as though suddenly faint. He groans in a falsetto as Graves shouts in protest. A strong hand is put against the small of his back to try and push Fate off, to which Fate responds by becoming more of a dead weight.
“I’ve gotten those vapors you were talkin’ about!” Fate cries, going as far as to adopt an effeminate accent not unlike the belles of southern Demacia who visited Bilgewater with their merchant husbands. “Oh, catch me, Malcolm, lest I fall to the ground and lay in the dirt!”
“You fuckin’--” Graves growls, barely biting back a laugh. “Get off!”
“I can’t! I’m going to- I’m going to faint!” Fate’s improvisation is broken by a short bark of laughter as Graves manages to shove him off.
Despite his aggression, Graves is laughing too. They lean against the wall of the pub, letting their laughter fade into light titters before it becomes silence.
They stand there for what feels like millennia to Fate, just absorbing the feeling of their solidarity. The rain patters at their feet and above their heads on the pub’s awning like the metronome to some unheard melody, and the quiet was perfect. So, so perfect.
“I missed you,” Fate admits, and the warmth in his voice embarrasses him. Of course he missed Graves, they were friends. But there was no shaking that another deeper, scarier emotion lay underneath that statement. He can only hope Graves didn’t pick up on it through his haze.
In that bout of silence, Graves had pulled out and lit a cigar. If he did recognize the adoration in Fate’s voice, he made no mention of it. He exhales a cloud of stinky smog out and nods slowly.
“Missed you too. Kinda sucks to not have someone to bitch about the old captain with.” Graves says, and for a moment Fate ignores the words and just soaks up the mood of it all. He genuinely missed Fate.
He holds back a giddy smile and tilts his head to the side to address Graves again.
“Whatever happened with you ‘n him, anyway? Thought he was your boss for life or somethin’. Not that I know how pirates work.”
Graves grimaces as though the question is a thorn in the side. Fate doesn’t retract his statement, but there is an understanding in the air that lets Graves know he doesn’t need to answer if he doesn’t want to. Luckily, he complies and begins to explain.
“Fired me,” he starts, taking a long drag from his cigar. The smoke that curls out as he talks is almost hypnotic. “Spoke out too many times, got booted for havin’ a sassy mouth and bein’ too hard to break. So I got dropped off at the next port in Noxus. Made a few enemies there but I was able to round up Kolt and Wallach near the Targonian border. Raised a little money, stole a lot more, and bought that there ship.”
Graves points his half-consumed cigar towards the black-sailed boat in the distance. She still rocked and bobbed like any other, and Fate wishes he could verbally apologize to a damn heap of wood and fabric. He suspected she brought misfortune and danger, but she brought home the only friend he’d ever had. He turns back as Graves speaks again.
“Found The Brick in Demacia, and Quinn was hidin’ out just outside the Freljord. The rest of the crew is hired from ‘round those parts. Was lucky to find’em, otherwise the twins and I would’a been stuck and poor as shit.”
Fate finds himself examining Graves once again, and there is a certain tiredness to him now that he sits so close in the dark. His eyes tell tales of endless nights and navigating a huge and recognizable ship, of avoiding Noxian enemies and trying to repay debts and countless fights for honor. Graves has a story.
Fate wonders if he’s a part of it.
“So, what about you?” Graves asks. “What’s your life been like since we left?”
“As you can imagine it’s been uneventful without a shitter like you in my life.”
“I certainly thought so.” Fate quips, but recalls all that’s gone on. With a sickening realization, he finds it to be truly uneventful. Graves has been the most exciting thing to happen to him since he joined the acolytes. He was free to do what he liked, and what he liked was to read and learn and gamble. He didn’t fight, no one fought him, and he was hardly ever caught when he did steal. He briefly bites his lip in thought. He had nothing to report.
“So nothin’ really happened?” Graves prompts.
Fate shrugs. “Not really, I suppose.”
“Guess you should’a climbed aboard with us.”
Graves says it so quietly, Fate nearly misses it. But he does hear it. His heart swells and he has to clench his jaw in order to swallow his cheeky grin.
“You know I can’t swim,” Fate mumbles. “Dunno what you would’ve done if I’d fell overboard.”
“Still didn’t learn to swim?” Graves snorts.
“Nope,” he says, allowing a gentle smile. “Didn’t need to.”
“You didn’t need t’learn how to swim but you live in Bilgewater which is, y’know, an island.”
“There are boats.”
“But you just said that was your excuse for not comin’ aboard the Dead Pool.”
“D’you wanna learn how?”
“How to swim?” Fate snorts. “Hell no. I hate the water.”
There is a shift in the conversation that Fate can immediately sense, but cannot place. Graves sighs a little and goes quiet, focusing on chewing the end of his cigar.
Fate curses himself — what did he say?
He quickly decides it’s better to change the topic as soon as possible, so he stretches his back and lifts off the wall. The rain taps and runs down one arm as he stands just outside of the awning reach.
“Walk me home?”
Graves glances back at Fate, then to the rain as though pondering if the offer was serious and that Fate was actually ready to walk home in the downpour. He raises his boot to put out the light of his cigar and flicks the butt away with a final exhale of smoke. And he nods.
“Alright, lead the way.”
The walk home was pleasantly easy and plain. Graves told stories about how Kolt had old love letters stashed away in a box under her bunk; how Quinn refuses to say where she’s from but Valor suspiciously adores Demacian-brand bird food; how Wallach taught Brick to knit and before they knew it the whole crew had hats and mittens for the winter. Fate did not share his own stories because he didn’t think they were exciting or as attention-grabbing as Graves’. Then again, maybe he was simply desensitized to how his brethren acted because he was taught that anything someone does is within their right to do so. Nevertheless, he was content in just listening to Graves prattle on.
All too soon, they reached the steps to the Buhru Temple. The rain had stopped somewhere along their walk, letting the two men be somewhat dry. Fate feels the chill of the post-storm wash over him, and the slippery temple seems to glow emerald in the faint moonlight.
But it’s not home. The thought hits Fate quickly and sharply, like a bite. He forces it away, chalks it up to invasive thoughts and the excitement of seeing Malcolm again.
“This it?” Graves asks, cutting through the small panic. “Ain’t changed a bit, has it?”
“Not at all,” Fate mumbles, trying to swallow his dissatisfaction. “Not one bit.”
Graves crosses his arms awkwardly, and Fate meets his eyes for several long moments.
“Well, ah…” Graves starts, taking a step back. “See y’round.”
“You don’t leave for a while, do you?” Fate asks.
“No,” Graves says, almost hastily. “We’re here for a while before we start on another find. Regrouping, getting supplies, all’at.”
“Good,” Fate says. “Thanks for the walk in the rain.”
“Yeah, glad you liked it. Have fun catchin’ pneumonia, ‘cause I sure as hell won’t.”
Fate laughs faintly and begins his trek up the large steps.
An exciting night after many, many years of the same chaotic routine. All because he was anxious about a new set of pirates coming in. Turns out that survivor’s instinct ended up serving him well, despite what his brethren had said. Take that, Mikael!
Fate is almost through the enormous front doors when Graves calls out again. He stops and turns curiously.
“... Can I see you again?” he asks, and something about his body language seems fidgety and nervous. “Since it’s been so long.”
Another kick to the fluttery insides.
Fate smiles and waves.
“Come by whenever you like. I’ll be up.”
And with a matching wave from Graves, Fate closes the door to the temple.
After being outside and in the warm tavern, the green walls of stone and tile feel cold. Empty.
Enough for Fate to swear his heartbeat could be heard from everywhere in the temple as it echoed in tune with his footsteps.